How Can We Prevent Bullying in Schools

Bullying in schools is a continuing concern. In the Philippines, a video of one student slapping her classmate several times has become viral. Sadly, being harassed or hurt by classmates is not uncommon. It has been reported that about one out of three adolescents experiences bullying. The school involved in this incident is a Catholic school, Sacred Heart College in Lucena City. What causes bullying? Dr. Gail Gross answers this question in the Huffington Post with one sentence: "Children model what they see."

Above copied from PTV

Some children bully because they actually think it is the right thing to do. Oftentimes, it gives them power. And bullying makes them popular. Making the above video viral probably does not help in our quest to stop bullying in schools. Recent research shows that bullying often happens with opportunities. Victims of bullying are often socially isolated. Bullying also correlates with homophily - when "birds of a feather flock together". In the above video, one thing should be clear. The bully is not alone. There are other students present and all seem not to know what is right. Some are even supporting or encouraging the bullying behavior.

"Children model what they see." We should really pause and reflect on that. Content is taught in schools but character is caught. Intervention methods that work with directly teaching children not to bully are now known to be not effective. But there is hope. Mark J. Van Ryzin from the Oregon Research Institute and Cary J. Roseth from Michigan State University find that Cooperative Learning is a promising means to reduce bullying inside schools. In a paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, the authors describe a program in which students are encouraged to work in groups in an interdependent fashion. Their program attempts to (a) break down the process of homophily among bullies and (b) provide a mechanism by which isolated students can develop new friendships. The results show convincingly that for marginalized students, those who are more likely to be bullied, "lower levels of bullying, victimization, and perceived stress" have been reported. Of course, cooperative learning has the added bonus of improving academic outcomes as well since students working as groups provides an avenue for peer learning. However, what is worth noting is not so much the intervention program but what teachers actually do to make this program work. After all, as the authors have noted, "Simply putting students in groups, however, does not guarantee that positive social interactions will occur." Thus, this program requires the teachers to undergo training on the intervention program so that they become proficient in the following approach:

...cooperative learning can include reciprocal teaching, peer tutoring, collaborative reading, and other methods in which peers help each other learn in small groups under conditions of positive interdependence. Their approach also emphasizes individual accountability, explicit coaching in collaborative skills, a high degree of face-to-face interaction, and guided processing of group performance. Cooperative learning is viewed as a conceptual framework within which teachers can apply the principal of positive interdependence to design their own group-based activities using existing curricula.

The approach is actually a change in school culture and the teachers are obviously modeling cooperation for students to see and copy. It is not suprising that an effective bullying intervention requires no less. Character is caught. The Catholic school in the Philippines where the specific bullying incident mentioned at the beginning of this post has posted the following in response to the viral video.

Above copied from Sacred Heart College Facebook page

Bullying is unacceptable in all schools yet it still happens. Perhaps, it is simply because we, adults, in so many ways, act as bullies.